Some 250 people from about a dozen states converged in Arizona late last week for a series of trainings and civil disobedience actions in an attempt to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Beginning on Friday, activists–many of them undocumented–chained their bodies to deportation buses and blocked the entrance to an immigrant detention facility. The convergence, organized by the Puente Arizona and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), culminated in what was essentially a big party on the driveway of an ICE office building on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Although House Democrats revealed a new comprehensive immigration reform bill two weeks ago, there’s very little reason to believe the bill will even come to a vote. And the president has made clear that he won’t use his executive power to halt deportations, which continue to remove an estimated 1,100 people daily. Still, activists are demanding Obama do something to bring record-setting deportations end.
"If the president won’t take action, and the Congress won’t take action, then the people will," says Marisa Franco, who works with NDLON. "People will literally put their bodies on the line to stop the deportation machine." And that’s exactly what they did.
On Friday, demonstrators blocked deportation buses from moving–and stopped the program called Operation Streamline from functioning for a day in Tucson. People who are unauthorized to cross the border but do so anyway are apprehended under the program and expedited for prison and deportation. Twelve people chained themselves to the bus’s wheels, while six more chained themselves to the fence outside the local ICE office that handles the Operation Streamline. Deportees inside the bus held handcuffed hands up as the action took place, and rather than face any prison time, they were simply removed from the U.S. without a conviction. The action resulted in some 20 arrests of activists but all were released within hours.
By targeting ICE, organizers are hoping to put pressure on Obama to not only stop deportations, but to also expand deferred action. Ahead of last year’s presidential election, Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Those youth who have applied for and attained relief say DACA doesn’t go far enough, because local and federal authorities still target their parents for deportation.
Natally Cruz, who works with Puente Arizona, says she’s thrilled to have the deferred action, but it hasn’t helped many of her loved ones. "What about my parents and aunts and uncles?" she wonders. That alone was enough motivation for her to participate in the convergence.
By Monday, activists took to the Eloy Detention Center, to protest the privately run facility. Six people chained themselves to the entrance to Eloy. Among them was 16-year-old Sandy Estrada, whose 22-year-old brother, Antonio Herrera Garcia, has been locked up at the center for a year despite the fact he had been raising $465 for his DACA application. Estrada told the Immigrant Youth Justice League, "I want the President to know that everyone deserves to be with their families and that he can stop our pain." Her brother’s story illustrates that even DACA-eligible youth can be targeted for detention and deportation.
But it wasn’t only young people who joined in. Mari Cruz Ramirez, 44, is an undocumented mother of three who largely does domestic work but has been a dedicated activist in Phoenix. She participated in the UndocuBus last year and was recently arrested after she handcuffed herself to a gate at the White House. She says she recognizes that a civil disobedience arrest in Arizona can turn into a possible deportation case. "As an undocumented person, I take a risk being deportation every time I step out of my home," she explains.
Despite some tense confrontations with local police outside the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Ariz., no one was arrested, and officers simply left the scene. Activists decided to head to Phoenix, where they aimed to shut down the local ICE office. For more than five hours, up to 400 demonstrators joined in and held banners in ICE’s driveway. One group of people hoisted a banner up on ICE’s flagpole that read, "Sorry, we’re closed, by the people." After days of unprecedented actions against detention and deportation, local police had a hands-off approach on the action, which essentially barred anyone from going in or out of the agency’s driveway. Activists blared music and danced into the early evening.
The convergence, called Shut Down ICE, ironically took place during a time when the federal government continues to be partially shut down itself. Detentions and deportations continue despite the shutdown. However, ICE public affairs personal have been furloughed. As such, the agency hasn’t commented on the actions.